New Spaces – December 13, 2005

New Spaces

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 15 – December 13, 2005


We often find ourselves in the situation where we are explaining to clients that new ideas and initiatives in their organization may well lead to the development of new spaces in their work environments. It is true that ten years ago quiet rooms, prayer rooms, or the various types of meeting and breakout spaces that you see in today’s work environments were not as prevalent as they are today. So hearing about a company putting a unique space into their mix is nothing to stop the press over, never the less, the other day I read a story about a new space that caught my attention.

The aspect of this story that compelled me wasn’t the space itself, but the aspirations the company had in creating this space, their drivers were interesting. The company is Wal-Mart, not being American some of you may not have heard of Wal-Mart. They are a large US retailer, a single buyer for a number of major markets. In fact Wal-Mart control 38 % of the market for several goods, it’s the kind of place you can go to and buy just about anything: bicycles, margarine, shotguns. They are the largest toy seller and grocer in the US. Their sheer size gives them power to dictate price and delivery times of goods to their 21,000 suppliers. If a manufacturer chooses not to follow their edict, they run the risk of seriously hurting their bottom line.

Wal–Mart is quite a fascinating company. In 2002 Wal-Mart shifted the balance in the Fortune 500 away from companies like General Motors and Exxon to mass consumer – merchandisers and retailers. Wal – Mart is now number one, they are the largest corporation in terms of sales in the WORLD. They sold $244.5 billion worth of goods last year and in a three month period sell what the number two retailer sells in a year. They have no real rivals and are growing at a rate of 15% per year. Wal-Mart is a template firm that has set the standard for many others.

Consumers in the US have benefited , Wal-Mart is partly responsible for the low inflation rate in the US and a McKinsey & Co. study concluded that about 12% of the US economy’s productivity gains in the second half of 1990 could be traced to Wal-Mart alone! How do they do it? Well their leverage lies in the fact that they are the end of the supply chain, they know what is being sold and are able to then tell the producers what needs to be made, when it needs to be done and where to deliver it.

Manufacturers are dependant on Wal-Mart’s knowledge of the market. This knowledge is gained through careful analysis of data collected from bar codes that track sales of items on specific days, weeks, hour of the day etc. This knowledge wields them great power. One example of this is the fact that many of Wal-Marts suppliers have been forced to lay off employees in the US and outsource their products overseas. This is the result of the pressure put on the suppliers to drive prices lower. Consequently, Wal-Mart’s success is due in part to the import of product from low-wage countries such as China. Despite the fact that Wal-Mart pushed a “Buy American” banner in the late 1980’s and early 90’s, they have doubled their imports from China in the past five years, buying $12 million in merchandise in 2002. This is nearly 10% of all imports to the United States.

Another contributing factors to Wal-Mart’s success is the way they treat their employees. Here is an excerpt from an internal memo describing Wal-Mart hiring practice. “all jobs to include some physical activity (e.g., all cashiers do some cart – gathering)” “ It will be far easier to attract and retain a healthier work force than it will be to change behaviour in an existing one,” “These moves would also dissuade unhealthy people from coming to work at Wal-Mart”. You don’t have to read between the lines too much to see why statements such as these have given birth to entire web sites such as Wakeup Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart Watch that are dedicated to bashing the company and exposing their bad behaviours. With any luck it will also earn them a well deserved Americans with Disabilities Act class action lawsuit.

The negative publicity has become a real pain in Wal-Mart’s behind, right where their wallet is. In fact a confidential report compiled by McKinsey & Co. found that 2 to 8 percent of Wal- Mart consumers have ceased shopping there due to the “negative press they have heard”The Company executives were not prepared to deal with the impact of the negative press going around and decided to do something about it, and that is where new spaces and innovative approaches to problems come into the picture. Wal-Mart has created a war room in their Bentonville headquarters to enable them to react to what they believe is the most extensive campaign ever waged against a corporation.

In addition to the war room Wal-Mart has engaged Edelman, one of the largest PR firms in America to help. Edelman has assigned two of their top operatives to the account, one who was a previous adviser to Bill Clinton when he was having Monica problems, and the other was the creative force behind Ronald Regan never getting blamed for anything. In addition, six former political operatives have been dispatched to the Bentonville war room to do damage control. They start at 7 each morning, the room’s walls are covered with display boards and to-do lists for the team. Two large maps on the wall show locations of all Wal-Mart stores across the US. The team scans newspaper article and television transcripts that mention Wal-Mart. Then they call employees around the country to plan for events, whenever possible the war room will try to neutralise criticism before it starts. Their strategy is paying off, they say that many of the stories written in the press contain their messages. It is a proactive response to a bad situation.

What is interesting about this is the unique blending of disciplines: retail, politics, public relations, and architecture to solve a problem. It is also encouraging to see the exploitation and abuses of companies like Wal-Mart moving to the front burner. Mind you exposing such behaviours and stopping them are two different things. Never the less there is hope on the horizon. As of 2004 any company listed on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq is required to adopt and disclose a code of conduct. In addition, calls for a defined standard of corporate conduct are emerging around the globe the United Nations Global Compact and the Consumer Charter for Global Business have endorsed conduct codes. In other regions bodies like the Hong Kong’s Independent commission Against Corruption, South Africa’s King Committee on Corporate Governance, the Brazilian Institute of Corporate Governance and the Japanese prime minister’s 2002 advisory panel have all advised companies to create codes that will outline quality of life and corporate responsibility. 

What does all of this mean to us as designers? Well it reminds us that our jobs are becoming even more difficult because the problems we solve have a higher degree of complexity than ever before. Our client’s demands are different today to what they have been in the past and this may leave us ill equipped to help them. We may need to engage others to develop new attitudes and innovative approaches to tackle issues we never knew were in our realm. In addition, it reminds us that the more we know about the issues our clients deal with the more we will be able to help them control all of the things out there in the world that are volatile. The possibilities are both frightening and exciting because to really be on top of it, we will need to continue to evolve as a company and as individuals.

I will leave you with a story: When my oldest son Harry was about 8 he and a friend of his decided they did not want those gym shoes with the swoosh on them, Nike, because they heard the company employed and exploited children their age in other countries to make their products. I thought this was quite astute for an 8 year old, but he is my son – came out of the womb facing left. At any rate, we were delighted at this small token of compassion shown by our son; the real delight came from knowing we would save a good deal of money never having  to pay for expensive branded gym shoes. We were comforted in knowing we could just buy him something cheap at Wal-Mart. 

Geyer Future Environments wants to wish you a happy and safe holiday season, we look forward to sharing a new year of exciting opportunities and ideas with you.

Sources for this rambling


The New York Times

“A New Weapon for Wal-Mart: A War Room”

November 1, 2005

“The Wal – Mart You Don’t Know”

By Charles Fishman

Fast Company – December 2003

”Inside the Worlds Largest Company” by Edna Bonaciche

Frontline excerpts PBS

“Up to Code – Does Your Company’s Conduct Meet World-Class Standards?”

By Lynn Paine, Rohit Deshpande, Joshua D. Margolis, and Kim Eric Bettcher

The Harvard Business Review – December 2005

“Wal-Mart: Discriminate to Save Health Care Costs”

Labor Blog – October 25, 2005


Job Burnout – October 28, 2005

Job Burnout

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 14 – October 28, 2005

Not being Catholic the closest I have ever come to confession is sitting on a barstool, never the less I feel I understand the concept of sin confession. The propelling guilt that weighs you down. Consequently, I must start this Futures Rambling with confessions. Forgive me Geyer, I did not check my WIPS on time, sign the invoices immediately, I completed my timesheet two days late and it has been two months since my last Rambling… Why? Well lots of thing, most of them acronyms like AGS, MBF, IAG but also to be honest with you, I just couldn’t get myself motivated to do it. The sad thing is that I had even done some great research on appropriate behaviour in the workplace following the antics of John Brogden – former NSW opposition leader, journalist groper and insulter of politician’s wives. Just ask Jenny Angle. So what was the problem is Laurie a slacker? – never mind don’t answer. What I have determined after a process of self diagnosis is I had job burnout.

First off there is a difference between job burnout and basic exhaustion, or general aversion to hard work. In her book Overcoming Job Burnout, Dr. Beverly Potter defines burnout as “a destruction of motivation caused by feelings of powerlessness. Power – the ability to influence and accomplish – is essential for well being and sustained motivation”. In another book The Truth About Burnout author Christina Malach and Michael P. Leiter define burnout as the index of the dislocation between what people are and what they have to do. It represents an erosion of values, dignity, spirit and will and erosion of the human soul. It is a malady that spreads gradually and continuously over time, putting people in a downward spiral from which it is hard to recover. Personally I don’t feel like I am in a downward spiral that is eroding my soul, I just want to take a few days off. The point is we all have our own idea of what this means, it is a very evocative term, a slippery concept with no standard definition but for many of us a real thing we experience from time to time. .

Work done on job burnout has found that there are three interrelated dimensions to job burnout which taken as a whole comprise a psychological symptom. The first dimension is exhaustion; feeling drained and not having mental or physical energy to get on with whatever it is you have to do. The second dimension is cynicism. Cynicism is defined as a negative evaluation and reaction to the job, often beginning with work overload. What happens with cynicism is that it leads to negative thoughts about both work and your colleagues. One hall mark with job burnout is the development of strong negative, hostile, cynical, dehumanizing responses to ones job. The third dimension is negative self evaluation, rather than being negative about ones job and colleagues’ sufferers are negative about who they are and what they are doing.

How do you determine whether you have job burnout or are just a big crybaby throwing a dummy spit?  Here are the early warning signs:

  1. Chronic fatigue – exhaustion, tiredness, a sense of being physically run down
  2. Anger at those making demands
  3. Self – criticism for putting up with the demands
  4. Cynicism, negativity and irritability
  5. A sense of being besieged
  6. Exploding easily at seemingly inconsequential things
  7. Frequent headaches and gastrointestinal disturbances
  8. Weight loss or gain
  9. Sleeplessness and depression
  10. Shortness of breath
  11. Suspiciousness
  12. Feeling of helplessness
  13. Increased degree of risk taking

No one is immune to job burnout; anyone can get it, in any profession and at any level. Research has been done in many different countries and the same insights and findings emerge. Interestingly, data suggest that it is not just the senior – level managers who run the organization who get burn out. The research suggests there is not any increased vulnerability for certain occupational groups, be they white or blue collar. The bottom line is it is about mismatches, between the individual and their job, or the workplace environment.

As with most things prevention is better than a cure. What preventative measures can an organization take to prevent job burnout affecting their employees? First off balancing work load is a good start, followed by giving employees control and autonomy. When people feel they have control over their work you will see greater engagement. Creating reward and recognition programs to give feedback positive and negative gives employees a good sense of their job progress. Next it is important to develop a workplace community including colleagues, ones supervisor, and the people one supervises – anyone who the employee has an ongoing relationship with. Creating relationships with mutual trust and support is critical to feeling positive about a job. It is also critical to develop a workplace that is fair; people expect to be treated fairly and with respect, especially when it comes to workloads, pay or promotion. Finally it is difficult to avoid a mismatch when there is a conflict between values. If employees feel constrained by a job they feel is unethical and not in accord with their core values there will be low engagement. It make you wonder how a guy like Dick Cheney happily goes to work every day, unless he is really satin in disguise.

What can each of us do as individuals to avoid job burnout? One bit of advice from the experts is to manage yourself, which requires knowledge and skill. Self management will increase your personal power because you can create situations where you can give yourself the rewards you need. I do this; it’s why I have a file drawer full of shoes. It is also important to manage stress, learn what situations trigger stress responses. By knowing what sets you off you can better raise and lower your tension level.  Building a strong support system of friends, family and co-workers can also help buffer you against the negative effects of stress

In our job journeys we will inevitably encounter situations that will require skills that we have not yet developed. Knowing how to arrange learning situations for yourself will give you the confidence that you can acquire the skills required to tackle new challenges. With jobs it is important to stretch your abilities and follow the inertia principle: A body in motion will stay in motion, keep yourself moving forward. In some cases this may require you to modify or tailor your job to increase your enjoyment of work, shaping your job to capitalize on your skills and interest, and expanding those parts of your job that you enjoy most.

It may be necessary to reprogram your thoughts so you do not respond to every red flag that is waved in your nose. Learning how to empty your mind of negative chatter and remain focused on the challenges at hand can help with work frustrations. Eliminating the negative thinking from your mind can free you up enough to turn around a bad situation and avoid job burnout. It is important to fine tune your thinking and take corrective action.

Part of avoiding job burnout is to be in control of yourself and your thoughts. It is when we are not in control that we feel helpless. Experts recommend detached concern, explaining that it is a higher order of mental control in which personal power can be gained by letting go. Attachment to your notions of how things ought to be can imprison you and make you feel helpless. Like any yoga or dance teacher would advise relax and breathe to stretch.

In some situations the best solution is to change jobs, but the experts warn that if burnout victims quit their job without analyzing the source of dissatisfaction or exploring what is needed, they run the risk of finding a new job as bad as, or worse than the old one.  Personal power comes in knowing what you need and how to go out and get it. It is important not to limit yourself, consider every way you can imagine to achieve what you want.

Finally, it is important not to take yourself too seriously. Laugh – as a disciplined practice – find humor in disaster to save your sanity, your health and your perspective.


Management Today

{How to prevent job} burn out by Professor Christina Maslach

July 2005

13 Signs of Burnout and How To Help You Avoid It  by Henry Neils

“Overcoming Job Burnout: How to Renew Enthusiasm for Work” Beverly A Potter Ronin Publishing Copyright 1998

Job Burnout – Part 1 The Real Causes by Vicki Bell

Just for fun you can take a free Motivational Appraisal of Personal Potential (MAPP) that will asses your true skills to help you tailor your dream job


Reinvention – September 5, 2005


Future’s Ramblings – Issue 13 – September 5, 2005

Have you ever wondered what makes some things run their course, hit a peak and be done with never to be seen again; and others to do the same, but then years later emerge like a phoenix out of the flames? I am talking about things like flared pants, ponchos and pheasant tops or ‘The Fonz’ returning from a relatively dead acting career to star in Pulp Fiction. Consider Apple computer who is ‘thinking differently’ all the way to the bank with the popularity of the IPod.

Thinking differently is quite challenging for most of us, particularly if we have personally advanced to a position of authority at work or home where we may have the expectation of resting on our laurels. To continue to push yourself and remain open minded and nimble to new ideas and the changes that are taking place in the world is not something that happens naturally. The Aznavoorian children remind me of this daily. I’ll admit I’m fascinated with people and companies who are able to rise to the challenges that a new world presents and do so successfully.

It takes training to remain open minded, and having the ability to identify and capitalize on opportunities as they present themselves, is something that Fred Kofman, a US business consultant speaking in Sydney a few weeks ago, encouraged business leaders to consider. He believes leaders that wish to improve the way they do business must concentrate on three things: 1. Accept responsibility and accountability for all of your decisions. 2. Find a purpose – beyond the next big deal 3. Learn how to have difficult conversations in the spirit of truth. Achieving any kind of success with this is about training, not about an idea. “It’s like golf. If you don’t go out to play, and have some supervision, and a coach, and someone to give you feed back when it didn’t’ work, you are not really serious”.

Recently I attended the 7th annual conference on culture and leadership put on by Human Synergistics. If any of you know anything about this group you will understand what I mean when I say that it was bordering on feeling like a religious convention. Not that I attend many  religious gatherings; however, I do read and admit I’m fascinated every time I hear of groups that  decide to drink Cool Aid or don purple T shirts and Addias runners and snuff themselves. You have to wonder how some individuals can have so much influence on others, is it the sign of the leader’s strength and charisma or the weakness of the masses?

Human Synergistics believes that to understand and focus on improving culture in an organisation, you must understand the personal style of its leader. If you have the wrong leadership style they will train you to gravitate towards more constructive styles of leading. They do this by performing two ‘lifestyles inventories’ which measure styles and behaviours, one inventory is done with the leader and the second with their co workers. You would be shocked to know that there is often a disconnect between what the leader thinks his personal style is, and what his co workers think it is! From these inventories a leaders behaviour is identified into the three categories which I have listed below, with a few of the associated behaviours attached:

>        Passive – Looking to please others, non committal, process driven, avoidance

>        Aggressive – Oppositional, critical, competitive, perfectionist

>        Constructive – Achievement and goals oriented, personal integrity, self actualizing, tries new things

It is no big surprise that leaders who are constructive fair better. Leadership and organisational effectiveness are connected; personal styles can be shaped by organisational factors or culture, unfortunately organisational factors often reinforce the wrong styles of leadership. Therefore individual change depends on organisational change and vice versa, and both impact company effectiveness.

Human Synergistics is not alone in believing that we must understand the link between leadership and culture when it comes to changing or reinventing a business. They maintain that to really understand how to change, we need to question the assumptions we hold and not just tap around the edges. Like Fred Kofman, Human Synergistics believes we must practice or train to become more aware of the impact our actions have on our co workers. The sad thing is that most leaders know this; they just don’t do it because they don’t think it is that big of a deal.

As identified above driving cultural transformation takes training, it also takes courage which involves taking risks and encouraging people to do things differently. I have heard two CEOs speak in the past few weeks on the topic of company transformation. Mitsubishi Australia’s CEO Tom Phillips did not just lift sales; he pulled Mitsubishi up from near disaster after the closing of the Lonsdale plant and the aftermath of several of the company’s Japanese executives going to prison for hiding dangerous flaws in their vehicles. Ron Walker the CEO of Freedom Furniture spoke of the transformation of his business, how he created a company culture in remote locations where turnover was high. Their tips for constructive reinvention:

>        Surround yourself with great people and allow them to make mistakes

>        Life is short – Just do it

>        Seek out and learn from others and their mistakes

>        Start over – Tom Phillips fired Y&R and launched a new ad campaign with CHE featuring Tom (who is no movie star)

>        Hold your people accountable – leadership without accountability is management.

>        Lead by example –show leadership humility

>        Hire and develop the right people – be willing to get rid of others

>        Focus – over communicate and stick to it.

Sometimes reinvention of a business requires a more radical approach. In the book Blue Ocean Strategy the authors describe how Cirque de Soleil achieved rapid growth in an industry that had limited potential for growth. Cirque du Soleil did this not by taking customers from other circuses but instead created a new market that rendered the competition irrelevant. To understand this the book asks that you imagine a market universe composed of two sorts of oceans – red and blue. Red oceans represent all industries in existence today, blue oceans denote those not in existence. In blue oceans demand is created, often by expanding existing boundaries.

According to Fast Company you don’t need to compete in a red ocean of bloody competition. Because even exhausted industries like the circus can be reinvented. Here are their tips

Don’t swim with the school

Quit benchmarking the competition or setting your strategic agenda in the context of theirs.

Find new ponds to fish

Don’t assume your current customers have the insights you need to rethink your strategy. Look to noncustomers instead.

Cut bait on costs

Put as much emphasis on what you can eliminate as on what you can create.

I will leave you with one last story that I heard on the radio. Madonna, who has sold millions of CD’s, has engaged in market research to determine which songs to put on her new album. I believe this is along the lines of DJ’s noting when clubbers stay on the floor and dance as opposed to going to get a beer. Not being a big fan of Madonna, it is hard for me to say anything about relying on past talents, because as far as singing goes I never thought she had any. As far as reinvention goes, she is a master and I just bet her next album sells just as much as any performer half her age.


Human Synergistics – 7th annual conference on culture and leadership, Sydney

AFR Boss club – Tom Phillips The man from Mitsubishi

BlueOcean Strategy  Renee Mauborgne

Fast Company

No Risk, No Reward by Keith H. Hammonds

Issue 57 April 2002

The Australian Financial Review Tuesday 9 August 2005

Seeing into the heart of the matter  by Bill Pheasant

Fast Company

Creating a blue Ocean of Innovation  by Renee Mauborgne

Issue 96 July 2005




Corporate Myth Busting – July 29, 2005

Corporate Myth Busting

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 12 – July 29, 2005

Have you seen that TV show Myth Busting, where two nerdy guys conduct experiments in the California desert to test the accuracy of long standing myths such as whether a ceiling fan can really decapitate you if you jumped up into it? The show has endless resources to experiment on such pressing issues, money well spent I’d say. What is more important curing cancer or knowing the true danger of letting your kids jump on the bed?

This show has inspired me to do some myth busting of my own, the myth to investigate today is the one about work life balance. Does this really exist; do companies really care about you or your life? The first area of investigation will be standard work hours. As you may know the French have recently voted not to join the European Union, according to the New York Times this is a short-sighted attempt to hang on to a 37 hour workweek. The Times explains that if they were to become a part of the union, the Bulgarians and Romanians who are willing to work longer hours, would rush in and that would be the end of their café sitting, wine drinking culture.

It is true that that economic globalization has had a great impact on the hours we work. In Japan 63% of the workforce now works an average of 50 hours, they are slackers compared to Hong Kong where 70 % of the workforce works 50 hours a week. According to Washington Post Op Ed columnist Thomas Freidman, in India they would work a 37 hour day if they could. Work hours in America have risen steadily over the last three decades, but that just gives them something else to brag about.

This evidence goes against the predicted trends that we would be working less due to industrialization. Futurist Alvin Toffler predicted that by 2000 we would have so much free time we would not know what to do with it, and you may remember that in the television show The Jetsons a standard workweek of 3 hours was mandatory.

The Nobel Prize winning economic historian Robert William Fogel has done studies on what is called the efficiency of the human engine. The studies find that the size, strength and stamina of the human body have evolved equal to mechanical advances in the industrial revolution. As you read this your body is adapting to the increased hours we work, apparently this evolution will mean that the more work you do, the more you are able to do. If we find we are unable to deal with the greater work load we can turn to drugs to help enhance our performance, antidepressants, anti anxiety drugs. New drugs such as Provigal, will allow a person to stay up and alert for two days without sleep, this is currently being tested with helicopter pilots in the army. The Defense Advanced Research Project is also testing drugs with solders that will allow them to will themselves not to bleed and to function efficiently for up to a week without food or water. You would recognize how helpful this could be in a war, but may also explain why there are so many ‘black hawk’ crashes in Iraq. In addition, it will not earn smiley faces in the work life balance category

Many companies go to great lengths to promote work life balance by providing gyms, day-care, pool tables, masseuse, health food in cafes and rooms of all sorts from prayer rooms to sick rooms. However, in the Silicon Valley, there is an increasing feeling that such spaces are a “cosy face on white collar sweat shops” A debate is currently being waged over whether these fringe benefits are a means for technology companies to exploit workers, who they should really be paying overtime to. The pressure has become so great that employees of games company Electronic Arts sued the company in July; they now offer overtime pay to some employees.

The issue continues to escalate, this month several hundred video game makers met in San Francisco to discuss work life issues, giving them something else to talk about besides the fact that they can’t get a date.  The prospect of creating a gaming union is being considered, but companies are well aware of the impact unionizing will have on efficiency, which in the gaming industry is measured in revenue per employee. The opportunity for such companies to drive more jobs overseas is a real fear, and like most large publicly owned companies, they are driven by shareholder return.

The reality is that when you or I fill out our Superannuation forms, we don’t much care whether the company our fund invests in is good to their employees or not. We care how much money we are going to make. This drive for profit, and the complacency of shareholders, has had negative impacts. In the article “Is Your Boss a Psychopath” Alan Deutschman outlines the similarities in behaviours between psychopaths and many CEO’s . “The standard psychopath is a callous, cold – blooded individual who does not care if you have thoughts or feelings they have no sense of guilt or remorse. Top executives are charismatic, visionary and tough but they can also be callous, cunning, manipulative & deceitful verbally and psychologically abusive, remorseless, exploitative, self delusional, irresponsible and egomaniacal”.

Due to the large number of mergers, acquisitions and restructures in business, the climate is particularly suited to the corporate psychopath who thrives on power and control and who ruthlessly seek their own self interest in the form of shareholder value. Personalities like Andrew Fastow of Enron, ImClones Sam Waksal and our own Steve Visard from Telstra are examples. While they lack the chronic instability and anti social defiant lifestyle of the unsuccessful psychopath, they are cut from the same cloth.

Corporate misbehaviour is alive and rampant in Australia and America. An example of the lenient attitudes toward these activities is displayed in the AICD Boardroom Report from the Australian Institute of Company Directors. In the report former CEO of Tyco, Dennis Kozlowski was described as “not a criminal but a victim of the excesses of the time”. On the other hand, in Europe new antibullying movements are beginning to address psychological abuse and manipulation in the workplace. These behaviours are less common in Asia as their businesses are based on community bonds rather than glorified self interest. At least in Australia and the US the CEO’s are finally being held accountable for their crimes, Kozlowski, Fastow, and Waksal are all going to jail even though the AICD do not consider them criminals.

So is this myth busted? Do companies really care about what happens to their people; is there a sense of work life balance? You make the call.

FYI – To find out if your boss is a psychopath go to boss-quiz

to take their quiz.


Sources –

“Is Your Boss a Psychopath” by Alan Deutschman  Fast Company July 2005

“The Way We Live Now; No Rest for The Weary” by Charles McGrath NYT published July 3, 2005

“Fringes vs. Basics in Silicon Valley: by Matt Richtel NYT published March 9, 2005

AICD Boardroom report July


StarTrek Leadership – June 28, 2005

Star Trek  leadership

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 11 – June 28, 2005

This month has been quite a whirlwind, as luck would have it my husband went to the U.S. for a month which happened  to coincide with futures landing several new jobs all with identical deadlines. The result being little time to read, with the exception of Who Weekly.  It is critical to keep abreast of the important issues happening in the world such as what is going on with Brad and Angelina, Russell throwing phones, and Tom popping the question for the third time. When I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area many of my technology clients used to read Wired, Red Herring, Fast Company, and Martha Stewarts Living – at that time I assumed Martha was in the mix to keep touch with humanity. There is more to life than business and technology, to balance your life you want to know what the newest web browser is and how to make a moist turkey. In retrospect maybe it had nothing to do at all with connecting to our humanity, perhaps reading Martha Stewart was about stock tips.

Fortunately all is not lost, I have been watching TV and despite what you may think there are lessons to be learned if you look deep enough – or drink enough wine while viewing. This months Futures Rambling will be dedicated to what I have learned watching TV this past month.

An insightful lesson about leadership was given in one of the episodes of Star Trek that I watched. I do love this show but swear I don’t belong to any fan clubs nor do I dress up like any characters. That being said, I’ll admit that if I had a figure like Seven of Nine, and didn’t think that the dimples in my butt would show through the fabric of my one piece spandex suit, I would wear one to work too.

In the episode I saw, the Starship Enterprise comes upon another ship that has been destroyed, on board is a teenage boy who is the only survivor of a mysterious attack on the ship. Shortly after this discovery Enterprise is hit with a wave of energy that rattles Enterprise quite severely. Of course Captain Picard orders the shields to be put up, for you non fans that is what you do when your ship is under attack.  They survive the energy wave attack, unfortunately another comes, and then another. With each subsequent attack the energy wave gains strength and the Starship Enterprise is forced to divert critical energy from other systems in the ship to strengthen the shields. Around this time the kid that survived the attack on the other starship explains that the identical scenario took place on his ship; ultimately the waves intensified to a point where they had exhausted all of their reserve power and were unable to combat the attack.

Suspense mounts; the starship enterprise is headed for imminent destruction. At this point Lieutenant Commander Data, who is a robot, begins to do some calculations in his head. Data is quite brilliant and has a mind like a calculator, a bit like Amanda Wood but she is human and her skin is not green. The next energy wave is set to hit the ship in minutes when Data tells the captain to shut down all of the shields. He explains that the wave is using the energy of the ship’s shields to gain strength; effectively the ship’s energy is being used against it. Data suggest that they lower all shields and “go with the flow” similar to surfers riding the rip tide out rather than exhausting themselves paddling out against the surf.

The idea of joining forces to create one that is more powerful is not dissimilar to Edward DeBono’s concepts of lateral thinking. Using the talents that we have to focus toward a common goal rather than exhausting energy and effort picking a side or proving a point. DeBono suggest an effective way to make decisions it to insist everyone involved view the issue from a variety of different view points, effectively focusing the room’s energy to get the best information and thinking around a topic exposed. Then when everyone has viewed the situation from a variety of angles you make an informed decision.

It is a bit obtuse but this is the message I get from that Star Trek episode, another is the complete faith and trust that Captain Pickard had in Data. With the possibility of imminent destruction of the ship the captain took the word of his crew. Had he hesitated, had he said wait a minute Data can you explain those calculations to me, or if he was the sort of leader who could not stand to not be the one that produced the answer, the ship would have been destroyed. Maybe this is why none of the crew on the Starship Enterprise resigns, or goes to join the Borg. They are a team who benefits from one another, and they have the up most respect for each others ability. Of course maybe they all stay because it is TV show? But I choose to think they have faith in the leader.

Leaders have different types of “action logic” which is the way that they interpret their surroundings and react when their power or safety is challenged. There are seven identified ways of leading, and knowing your action logic can be the first step in developing a more effective style. According to HBR (okay I did read something besides Who Weekly) the seven action logics are:

Opportunist – They win any way possible. Self – oriented; manipulative; might makes right

Diplomat – Avoids overt conflict. Wants to belong; obeys group norms; rarely rocks the boat

Expert – Rules by logic and expertise. Seeks rational efficiency

Achiever – Meets strategic goals. Effectively achieves goals through teams; juggles managerial duties and market demands

Individualist – Interweaves competing personal and company action logics. Creates unique structures to resolve gaps between strategy and performance.

Strategist – Generates organizational and personal transformations. Exercises the power of mutual inquiry, vigilance, and vulnerability for both the short and long term.

Alchemist – Generates social transformations. Integrates material, spiritual, and societal transformation

As you might imagine each type of action logic lends it self to different situations. The least effective for organizational leadership are the Opportunists and Diplomat; the most effective, the Strategist and Alchemist.

Generally I do prefer to read more and hope to get back to that in time for next months Futures Rambling. Somehow reading about business is not as depressing as reading about Tom jumping on Oprah’s couch because some 20 year old agreed to marry him,  or realizing that no matter what you do no one is going to let you drop the shields.

Rocket Science – May 11, 2005

Rocket Science

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 10 – May 11, 2005

I may have told some of you that one of my brothers is a rocket scientist, no I am not joking. He lives in Houston by Cape Canaveral and works for Lockheed Martin they make plane parts, rockets, WMD’s, they are contracted to NASA. My brother and I don’t talk much, it is not that we don’t like each other or don’t get along, there is just little that someone of my intellectual capacity can share with someone of his intellectual capacity.

My brother is working on a new project which he hopes will go better than his last; the last project was called Columbia. You may have heard about the Space Shuttle, it disintegrated on returning from a mission after hot gasses entered the craft through a hole punched in its wing. The hole was made by foam debris that fell off the shuttle during ascent, all seven crew members on board Columbia died that day. Can you imagine what that would feel like to have your colleagues blow up? Sometimes we wish it would happen, which is why my Mother always said you must be careful of what you wish for, but if it did what would that do for workplace moral?  What would be even worse for workplace moral would be to learn after investigations that it wasn’t just the foams fault. The real reasons that Columbia blew up are far more complex and unsettling.

According to the Columbia Accident Investigation Report NASA suffered from the symptoms of the perfect place. Its decision making was marked with unwarranted optimism and overconfidence, and this led to a warped outlook on safety. Frontline engineers had requested photos of the damaged shuttle, but these were denied, the big guys didn’t think it was important to listen those in the trenches.  The result was the engineer’s feared ridicule for expressing their concern about the foam that flew off, so remained quiet. The culture at NASA created a situation with the engineers that is similar to Shapelle Corby’s predicament with the Indonesian court system – they had to prove that the situation was unsafe rather than prove it was safe, backwards considering what was at stake.

According to Karl Weick who has studied NASA in depth, viewing something as you almost failed rather than barely succeeded can be a great reminder that the system is all too capable of big mistakes. “In general, it just breeds the kind of wariness, a kind of attentiveness.” He goes on to say that “complacence is what you’re worried about”. Maybe it is all semantics, never the less; Weick says there’s a fine line to walk between a proud culture and a prideful one, between celebrating a healthy history of successes and resting on your laurels. “Delusions of a dream company” is what Sydney Finkelstein, professor of management at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business and author of Why Smart Executives Fail, calls it. That honest pride starts going toward self-confidence, overconfidence, complacency, and arrogance.

You may have heard that NASA has delayed the launch of the next shuttle because they realized that ice can cause as much damage as the foam caused. According to James D. Wetherbee the former commander and critic of NASA this is a “healthy change for the better in culture” I should hope so after blowing up two shuttles and losing 14 people! Don’t get me wrong I love using my taxpayer dollars (yes I still pay US taxes) for space exploration, and after all as long as that goes on, my brother has a job. Also in this case the money is being spent on real science, unlike when NASA spent ridiculous sums developing a ball point pen that can write in zero gravity – the Russians just use a pencil. Nope, I don’t mind my money being spent on science. What I mind, what really chaps my ass, is dumb leadership.

The Columbia disaster highlights the ultimate price of poor leadership and organizations not communicating internally. Getting people in an organization to communicate is tricky business. In some cases the opportunities are not there, and in other cases people only trust those that they know, which has obvious limitations. Creating opportunities for people to work together creates social networks that can develop the kind of trust that enables people to communicate information in a way that gains value from the exchange. Establishment of networks is good, but they will not work if leaders don’t let them.

Leaders must listen on all levels and embrace what is unconventional. If they shape cultures that are open to possibility and failure they will learn how to combat the problems that lay ahead. They need to imagine the unimaginable. I read a story in the February 2005 edition of Fast Company about a guy named Elon Musk. Musk is a dotcom zillionaire at  30 years of age, he has taken his money and is using it to fund a new company called Space Exploration Technologies (Space X), they plan to take on NASA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and the rest of the big rocket makers and with Musk’s leadership and their companies attitude they just might do it.

There are no R&D labs at SpaceX, no PhDs and no government subsidies. Space X is a place where innovation is a state of mind. It’s about process. Even though they don’t have the training or business connections they do have an entrepreneurial culture that dreams big. Space X plans to derive its success from small improvements done on the cheap. Since he has funded the company with his own money, Musk has challenged his employees to do more with less. The company borrows parts and buys others on e bay. They find inspiration in odd places such as making fuel tanks out of milk truck – which didn’t work but they gave it a go. Rather than toiling away for years on something till it is perfect, Space X has a commitment to fast prototyping and testing.  They build as quickly as possible and then they “test the crap out of it”. The people that work at Space X have been cherry-picked from other companies that they were bored working at with the draw at Space X being they have freedom to do their job. No all day meetings, no waiting for months to get parts they requested or wading through bureaucracy. They just build rockets.

Reading all of this you cannot help but wonder where we fall in the whole mix. Do we have “delusions of a dream company” are we overconfident, complacent, arrogant, or are we more like Space X? If we’re not can we be? Unfortunately, if we are not what we want to be, the scientifically studied odds of us changing are nine to one. This taken from studies of people who are given the choice of changing or dieing, i.e. they had a life or death situation that required change. Face it; people don’t like to change, especially the way they act.  Sadly, changing behaviours is the most important challenge for businesses trying to compete in a turbulent world says John Kotter from HarvardBusinessSchool. The CEO’s who are supposed to be the leaders of change are often the most resistant, and as the change or die studies shows, crisis is not a motivator. So what is, how can you be the one in ten? Kotter believes it is by talking to people about their feelings and appealing to their emotional side. This can be done, Louis Gerstner turned IBM around in the 90’s and he did so by making powerful emotional appeals to “shake them out of their depressed stupor, remind them of who they were – you’re IBM damn it!” Not saying that we are like NASA, but if we did want to change we could.  AFTER ALL WERE GEYER DAMN IT.


Women in the Workforce – April 29, 2005

Women in the workforce

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 9 –  April 29, 2005

There is much debate, and I am sure more to come in our office soon with the new and soon to be Moms, about something coined by the Harvard Business Review as the “opt – out revolution”. This refers to what has been identified as a surprising number of women dropping out of main stream careers. The figures are substantial: a survey of the class of 1981 at Stanford University showed that  57% of women graduates leave the workforce. Of three graduating classes at The Harvard Business School only 38% ended up with full time careers. A study of MBA’s showed that of women holding MBA’s only one in three works full time compared with one in 20 for men.

To understand why women leave the workforce the Center for Work Life Policy (a New York based not-for-profit organization) formed a private sector multi year task force in 2004. The task force entitled “The hidden brain drain: Women and Minorities as Unrealized Assets” was sponsored by Ernst & Young, Goldman Sachs, and Lehman Brothers. From the study of 2,443 women with graduate degrees, professional degrees, and high honors undergraduate degrees a portrait of women’s career paths was charted.

What did they and others find? There are a variety of reasons. One identified by Fast Company in Where are the Women? Feb 2004 is that there is still a lingering bias in the system. Women interviewed for the article say that while overt discrimination is rare, the executive suites of most major corporations remain largely boys’ clubs. Catalyst ( a women’s business group) blames the gap on the fact that women often choose staff jobs like marketing and HR and not what they called ‘line jobs’ – those responsible for profit and loss and it is from this rank that executives are normally chosen.

Another reason identified by Fast Company comes out in the story of Brenda Barnes president and chief executive of the North American arm of PepsiCo. Brenda was considered a top contender for the CEO position but she decided to ‘take this job and shove it’ in 1997. When asked why she offered “When you talk about those big jobs, those CEO jobs, you just have to give them your life. You can’t alter them to make them accommodate women any better than men. It’s just the way it is” In a workplace where women CEO’s of major corporations are so scare it is a true disappointment when any contender voluntarily steps down.

In 1986 Charles A. O’Reilly III, professor of organizational behaviour at Stanford followed up a group of Berkeley MBA’s to see if he could isolate the qualities that led to the corner office. His conclusion: Success in a corporation is less a function of gender discrimination than of how hard a person chooses to compete. And the folks who tend to compete the hardest are generally the stereotypical manly men. In 1999 Marta Cabrera was vice president at JP Morgan Chase, one of only two women in the emerging – markets trading desk. She had a great job, a happy marriage, and two healthy beautiful children – she managed to pull off the career woman’s trifecta. In May of 2000 Cabrera quit. When asked to comment she said “There’s a different quality of what men give up versus what women give up. The sacrifices for women are deeper, and you must weigh them very consciously if you want to continue. I didn’t want to be the biggest, best, greatest. I didn’t feel compelled to be number one”. In his book The Myth of Male Power  William Farrell says the fact that few women make it to the top is a measure of their power not their powerlessness. “They’ve learned they can get respect and love in a variety of different ways – from being a good parent, from being a top executive or a combination of both” He says women are free of the ego needs driving male colleagues. Hmmm.

Another significant reason for women leaving is that corporations don’t do enough to accommodate women’s more significant family responsibilities. Nearly four out of ten highly qualified women 37% have left the work force voluntarily at some point in their careers. There are factors other than having children, there is personal health and caring for elderly parents that rank among the leading reasons. This can be particularly tough with women in the 41 to 55 age group called the “sandwich generation” that are caring for children and aging parents. Sadly there is still a highly traditional division of labor on the home front (and now for my personal favorite statistic, one that will end the debate in the Aznavoorian household that has been going on since I became Mrs. S Aznavoorian in 1989) A survey by the Center for Work-Life Policy said 40% of highly qualified women with spouses felt that their husbands create more work around the house than they perform.

When asked to create a workplace wish list women describe the following as important: the ability to associate with people they respect, the freedom to be themselves, opportunity to be flexible with schedule, and 61% of women consider it very important to have the opportunity to collaborate and be part of a team. The importance of work relationships, of being a part of the team, has been highlighted in research done by Sydney Uni. in their Quality of work/Life index they found that relationships at work are the major factor in what people consider a good quality of work/life.

Work relationships are considered important, however there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. In “Forget about home…the real family is at work” AFR April 16-17 2005 states we place a greater importance on our work lives now because we are spending more time at work and have deeper and more nurturing relationships – partly because open plan offices encourage interaction. The article introduces the idea of the “office spouse”. You know you have one when you do what Condoleezza Rice did when she called GW Bush her husb… I mean the president. Or for an example closer to home, Peter Mac meant to ring his mother and instead rang Lyn Lennard. Isn’t that special!

Among women who take “off-ramps” the overwhelming majority (93%) have every intention of returning to work. For many the reasons are financial – they have to work to make ends meet. For others it is because they find pleasure in their chosen careers and what to reconnect with something they love. In focus groups conducted by HBR women talked about how work gives “shape and structure to their lives, boost confidence and self –esteem and confers status in their community.” Their professional identity is their primary identity. Interestingly, focus group participants also spoke of a deepened desire to give back to the community after they took time off work. For these women they went back to work, but not to their previous job because they did not find their careers satisfying or enjoyable.

Unfortunately, only 74% of women who off ramp and want to rejoin the workforce actually do, which goes to show you girls, On the career highway there are many off ramps but few on ramps. More good news, women on average lose 18% of their earning power when they take time off, in business sectors the penalties are more severe where wages drop 28% on average. It is worse if you spend a longer period of time away, women who spend three or more years out of the workforce can expect to lose 37% of their earning power. Research published in the Harvard Business Review in 2003 (in the article “Nice Girls don’t ask” showed fewer women attempt to negotiate pay increases. The article concluded that women were less likely to negotiate because of their social conditioning with results in an aversion to promoting their own interests; and many companies penalize women who do ask, by tagging them pushy and aggressive.

So now that I have painted this happy picture, and you look around you and see that in fact a whole lot of Geyer employees are women, and if fact many have had or will have children, what can we do. Fortunately, the data suggested actions that companies could take to ensure female potential does not go unrecognized. Smart companies can develop policies and practices to tap into the female talent pool, and create strategies around retention and reattachment of highly qualified women. Those that do will enjoy a substantial competitive advantage, especially as we all wonder how we will find enough high- caliber talent to drive growth. Such policies include:

1. Create reduced hour jobs – The survey indicates that 89% of women think this is important.

2. Provide flexibility in the day – Many women, like me, don’t require reduced work hours they merely need flexibility.

3. Provide flexibility in the arc of a career – Booze Allen Hamilton, the management consulting firm, recognized that it is not just workday, or work week flexibility that is required. Flexibility must be present across the arc of ones career.

4. Remove the stigma – Don’t penalize people for taking off work, or for wanting to be paid the same as their male colleagues.

5. Stop burning bridges – Only 5% of women in the survey are interested in rejoining the companies they left. Managers will not stay in a departing employee’s good graces unless they take time to explore the reasons highly qualified women leave the work force, and are able and willing to offer options.

6. Provide outlets for altruism – Employers would be well advised to recognize and harness the altruism of women, support their female professionals in their advocacy and public service efforts. 7. Nurture ambition – Implement mentoring and networking programs that help women expand and sustain their professional aspirations.





Collaboration – March 29, 2005

Collaboration  – March 29, 2005

I think that I would fall off my chair if I went into a workshop and didn’t hear the organization we were talking with want to be at least one, if not all of the following: an employer of choice, flexible, innovative, be the market leaders. It is not surprising that most organizations have the same goals, after all they are all businesses and even though they produce different services and products most are there to remain in business and to make money.

It is also not a big surprise that so many of the organizations we talk to feel that one of the ways they can achieve their goals is by promoting greater collaboration on every level: manager to staff, department to department, office to office. After all, it is a complex world we live in, the problems we solve are not simple; in fact the most significant changes in human history for good or bad have come about through individuals combining their forces in groups, like the Coalition of the Willing (sorry couldn’t help myself). As competitive pressures force companies to do more with less, there will be a greater need for organizations to rely on one part of their company to help another, putting a greater demand on the need to collaborate. The challenge will be how you get people to work across the organization, many of whom have different priorities, incentives and ways of doing things.

Getting this kind of collaboration right promises great benefits for companies. As a result the focus of the workplace in the past ten years has been away from individual spaces toward collaborative spaces of various types. It is expected that in the next five years individual / dedicated workspaces will be on average 10% smaller and the expected floor area dedicated to individual use will drop 16%. Today we design for small collaborations, big collaboration formal and informal – we provide mood lighting, comfy furniture, white boards etc. to promote interaction. We have done nothing short of providing  a few Barry White CD’s to get the sparks flying. A survey of Global 500 companies indiactes an average of 41% of their staff work collaboratively for significant portions of their workday. The average ratio of individual to collaborative workspace today is 3:1 over the next five years it is expected to reach 3:2.  All of this is great news when it comes to our ability to enable collaboration. Unfortunately, when it comes to making a real difference in terms of collaboration, it takes much more than a “space” to get groups working together.

Companies are hot to foster collaboration and in fact spend billions of dollars on initiatives to improve collaboration. However according to a recent Harvard Business Journal article the results of these initiatives are disappointing. They identified three myths in companies attempts to foster collaboration:

1. building a strong team will ensure collaboration.

2. An effective incentive system will ensure collaboration

3. Companies can be structured to encourage greater collaboration.

All of these they say are ineffective “seemingly sensible but ultimately misguided assumptions” because they focus on the systems and not the root cause of failures in cooperation. They believe that you cannot improve collaboration until you have addressed the issue of conflict.

The inevitability and importance to the organization of conflict is underestimated by most company leaders.“ The disagreements sparked by differences in perspective, competencies, access to information, and strategic focus within a company actually generate much of the value that can come from collaboration across organizational boundaries.” HBR recommends a clear step by step process for conflict resolution be integrated into a companies day to day decision making process. Conflict should not be viewed as a nuisance but as a valuable resource that should be managed, and exploited to gain greater insight into companies issues. Internal friction is often caused by unaddressed strain within the organization, or between the organization and its environment, there is great benefit in setting up methods to track and examine conflict that can lead to interesting new perspectives on a variety of issues.

In the Sage Allen New Business training some of us attended we were taught to probe to discover our clients needs, and their “real need” those that are not talked about as openly and are often personal. When thinking about collaboration and conflict we may be able to apply the same ideas. By probing to discover the issues that are not discussed, the ones that cause conflicts, we can encourage greater collaboration.


Innovation Process – February 29, 2005


Future’s Ramblings – Issue 7 – February 29, 2005

Yesterday I gave a talk to facilities managers at the AusFM conference. My talk was aimed at FM professionals, but I believe the message is also relevant to the design profession. The thesis of my presentation  was: FM professionals have a unique pragmatic and political knowledge of the organizations they work for, they know where control lies in the organization, who the squeaky wheels are and who the thought leaders are; they know a bit about everything! Consequently they are well positioned to take a more accountable leadership role in the creation of environments that can do more for their organizations, if fact they could behave more  like a Hollywood movie director might and assemble the most talented people, and direct them towards creating environments, that if they were movies, would sweep the Academy Awards.  As providers of space (both facilities managers and designers) need to get off their arses and rise to the challenge of making environments that go beyond the status quo and address tomorrow’s problems. Tomorrow’s problems are not communication and collaboration,  breaking down silos, or empowering workers – those were issues of the past. To really support the organizations we are working for, we need to begin thinking about how space can influence and impact the issues that are on the horizion. Those new pressing issues are supporting the creative class, shortage of skilled workers, management of distributed teams, and the cultural implications of offshoring to name a few.

If we want to make a difference, we must take on this challenge. I offer two ideas for how to proceed. One is to change the process of how we talk about and use space and open the conversations we have to more people within the organization. The second is to use the skills we have as creative innovative people and think differently, sorry for the cliché but think out of the box which we sadly do not do often enough.

Pulling together a group of people with different interests and agendas is a scary prospect for most managers of projects, even more frightening for them is the concept of engaging their “clients”. There is a logic that if you don’t ask, they wont tell, then you wont know, so you will not need to deliver. Success!  In many organizations expectations have been managed by keeping them very low. This is a shame, companies  gain from their interactions with others, the act of interaction itself yield benefits if for no other reason than it has the ability to change our perspective. Companies get better at what they do by working with outsiders whose specialised capabilities complement their own. Some would argue that these kinds of transactions are a key to driving  innovation, the friction that is produced coined “creative abrasion”.  It is obvious that different enterprises and people  bring different perspectives and competencies to tackling a problem. When people from diverse specializations interact,  the potential for innovative solutions to result rises .

Assembling the right team is a start, there also needs to be a process to maintain control. There is a company in the San Francisco Bay Area called IDEO who has won more design awards over the past decade than any other firm. You probably have not heard of them because they don’t design buildings or fitouts – they design things. In the 90’s IDEO was responsible for the design of the Palm V,  Polaroid I zone camera and the first non squeeze stand up toothpaste dispenser for Proctor and Gamble. The founder of their company, David Kelly was responsible for the design of the first Apple computer and the first mouse. I heard David Kelly on a panel at the Alternative Officing Conference in San Jose. Later I had the opportunity to  watch a video called “The Deep Dive” which was a replay of a 60 Minutes spot on IDEO and their creative process. It was a great, very inspiring video about how this company has applied a process to innovation.

The process that IDEO employes looks chaotic but is very controlled and clearly produces fantastic results. The IDEO’s design process begins with a diverse team, they advise clients by teaching them through others eyes: anthropologists, graphic designers, engineers and psychologists. The creative part of the process is done very fast, they insist on client participation, and in creating mock ups to test their ideas.

The design process has five steps:

Step One – Observe

This is done by shadowing, behaviour mapping, having clients keep a camera journal, and having Unfocused Groups ( an odd mix of people to discuss an issue)

Step Two – Brainstorm

Intense idea generation where the word but is not allowed, only and.

Step Three – Rapid Prototyping

Quick no frills mockups to demonstrate creative scenarios

Step Four – Refine

Narrow down the choices, brainstorm and engage the client to get agreement

Step Five – Implement.

The video showed the IDEO team designing a shopping cart. There were a few things that have stuck with me about the IDEO process. One was the courage that David Kelly had in leading his team, he defined the goals, set assignments, outlined basic protocol (the task had to be completed in 24 hours) and then let his team go wild. The team threw out as many ideas as was physically possible, none were abandoned or labeled as “duds”,  they let their minds be free without constraint. After a set period of time, Kelly reigned the team in. The group narrowed down the ideas, eliminating those that could not be done within the time frame, or were unacceptable for other reasons. When they settled on the new shopping cart design they quickly built one and tested it in a grocery store, where they discovered flaws that could be improved.  My colleagues and I were impressed and wondered if we could use a similar process for interior design. We began our own version of rapid prototyping, which is the same as the Translation process we have done with some clients here at Geyer.

Whether we adopt this process, or some other, as providers of space we must take on the  challenge to solve tough problems, ask different questions and use the skills that we have as creative people. We do ourselves and our clients a disservice by following the status quo when it comes to workplace design because we know that ‘work’ is not what it used to be. The existing set of solutions we work with today will not effectively contribute to solving the problems of tomorrow. I am not advocating blowing the budget, or project program but suggest we challenge ourselves to provide greater value, by taking some time in a controlled manner to consider the issues and the different options that might exist.

The pressing issue for businesses in the next decade is the eminent labor shortage and associated problems that will result from it. So what are we doing about it? Nothing. In the same way that I challenged the FM professionals at the conference I want to challenge you. If we begin to develop some innovative thinking around this we are going to provide our clients much more than just a design for their new office. Lets start by thinking about how we make space take on an active role in the process of innovation? What process do you go through when you innovate? Can space be used to help transfer knowledge?

Worker Shortage – January 29, 2005

The Shrinking Workforce

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 6 – January 29, 2005



I have been think a lot about Peter Geyer’s Chris Kringle. For those of you in Brisbane and Melbourne let me describe the gift: A very very VERY large pair of white underpants, Y front briefs to be exact. On the back was stenciled the word STRATEGIC. Like the rest of us in the Sydney practice I thought the gift was quite hilarious, now after a bit more reading and thinking about it my thoughts have gone from humor to fear. You might ask, what is so scary about a huge pair of underpants?


What is so scary is that those are big drawers to fill, and Peter is not the only one in this organization sporting big drawers.


In a previous version of Futures Rambeling I made reference to a problem that will be one of the key challenges that dominate the world of work in 2005, that is the shrinking workforce. It is not a new problem we have been talking about it for some time now, but it is becoming more urgent and some say it will be a dominating factor in the world of work in 2005. Developing economies around the world are facing an impending talent shortage that will make competing for business seem simple compared to competing for skilled workers. Finding good people will be a major aspect of many companies future success, and we may see companies going under not for lack of business but lack of workers.


There are many reasons this is occurring. There are fewer new, or “emergent workers”, some estimate we are roughly about  10 million knowledge workers short to meet our demand for the next five years. In addition to fewer new employees, the baby boomers will soon retire and when they walk out the door we will not just lose their bodies we will also lose the critical knowledge, important relationships, and wisdom about how to get things done.


In his book Lost Knowledge David DeLong describes four distinct types of knowledge that are important for organizations, the loss of any one of them can be devastating:


Human knowledge – basic intelligence, information, and skills


Social knowledge – embedded in relationships, some call this “social capital”


Cultural knowledge – that collective understanding of how things get done around here, in particular the values, norms, and shared assumptions that differentiate one organization from another


Structured knowledge – the formal systems, processes, and procedures that have been developed within an organization.



Beyond the four types of knowledge listed above there is something else we would lose when some people leave the work force ( I had to say some people because many of the baby boomers don’t have this due to extreme drug abuse) the Harvard Business Journal calls it “Deep Smarts”. It is not raw brain power, it is not emotional intelligence either, it is the ability to see the complete picture and yet zoom in on a specific problem.  Almost intuitively people with deep smarts make the right decision, at the right level with the right people. These are people whose knowledge would be hard to purchase on the open market, and in fact these “intangible” asset are increasingly recognized as legitimate sources of worth or merit in the global business context.